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The U.S. Supreme Court on May 29 ruled, 5-4, that an employee bringing a lawsuit claiming pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must do so within 180 days of the original discriminatory action � not within 180 days of his or her last paycheck. Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., No. 05-1074. Lilly Ledbetter worked at Goodyear’s Gadsden, Ala., plant for 19 years. In 1999, after she had retired, she filed suit in an Alabama federal court alleging that, because of sexual discrimination, she was making $6,000 a year less than the lowest-paid man doing the same work. She didn’t sue earlier, Ledbetter explained, because employees are less willing to rock the boat when they are new on the job and have no reason to believe there could be such pay disparity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Ledbetter’s claims could go forward. An Alabama federal jury found that she was discriminated against, and that the impact of early pay decisions by the company affected her until the time she filed initially with the EEOC. She was awarded $223,000 in back pay and more than $3 million in punitive damages. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the district court should have granted Goodyear’s motion for judgment as a matter of law because the statute required Ledbetter to file her complaint with the EEOC within six months of the alleged illegal employment practice. Ledbetter was complaining about decisions made by her supervisors long ago, well after the deadline for raising allegations of discrimination. No employment decision with discriminatory intent, the court said, occurred within 180 days of her filing her claim. The justices affirmed, rejecting Ledbetter’s argument that each paycheck issued violated Title VII, triggering a new six-month EEOC filing period. Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that “a pay-setting decision is a discrete act that occurs at a particular point in time,” and that the statutory period for filing an EEOC claim begins when that discrete act occurs. “A new violation does not occur, and a new charging period does not commence, upon the occurrence of subsequent nondiscriminatory acts that entail adverse effects resulting from the past discrimination,” Alito said. Current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination. Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days of each allegedly discriminatory employment decision. Alito’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent was joined by justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer.

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